Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

False Recognition without Intentional Learning

Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

False Recognition without Intentional Learning

Article excerpt

Asked to memorize a list of semantically related words, participants often falsely recall or recognize a highly related semantic associate that has not been presented (the critical lure). Does this false memory phenomenon depend on intentional word reading and learning? In Experiment 1, participants performed a color identification task on distractor words from typical false memory lists. In Experiment 2, participants read the same words. In both experiments, the primary task was followed by a surprise recognition test for actually presented and unpresented words, including the critical lures. False alarms to critical lures were robust and quite equivalent across the two experiments. These results are consistent with an activation/monitoring account of false memory, in which processing of semantic associates can evoke false memories even when that processing is incidental.

Traditionally, memory research has emphasized accurate remembering, but memory errors can also be very informative about ongoing processes (Bartlett, 1932). Over the past decade, there has been increased interest in the occurrence of false memories in particular. Although initially spurred by the controversy over recovered memories of child abuse, most research on the topic has involved false memories for single words or concepts. The most common technique for investigating such errors has been the Deese/Roediger-McDermott (DRM) paradigm, which involves presenting a list of words, all related to a critical unpresented word (e.g., bed,pillow, and night are all related to sleep). Participants are instructed to memorize the presented words for a later test, ordinarily recall or recognition. Generally, false recall and recognition rates are fairly high for the unpresented critical lures (Deese, 1959; Roediger & McDermott, 1995).

Several explanations have been advanced to account for false memories in the DRM paradigm, including the implicit associative response account (Underwood, 1965) and fuzzy trace theory (Brainerd & Reyna, 2002). Recently, the activation/monitoring approach (see Roediger, Watson, McDermott, & Gallo, 2001, for a review) has been gaining support. This approach holds that false memories arise during processing of DRM list words from either (1) conscious activation of critical lures via elaborative processes, or (2) automatic activation of critical lures via spreading semantic activation. Consequently, a key question concerns how words must be processed for false memories to be elicited. In particular, if false memories can be elicited automatically via spreading activation, then mere exposure to DRM list words ought to be sufficient to create a false memory. Researchers have reported findings that initially seem consistent with this claim.

Seamon, Luo, and Gallo (1998) had participants encode DRM lists, varying rate of presentation (2 sec, 250 msec, or 20 msec per word). Under either full or divided attention, correct recognition of DRM list words decreased as presentation duration decreased, dropping below 50% at the 20-msec rate. False alarms to critical lures, however, remained generally robust regardless of presentation rate, decreasing slightly as duration decreased. Thus, false memory for critical lures occurred even when correct recognition of actual list words was very poor. Note that McDermott and Watson (2001) also used a 20-msec presentation duration for list words, but their false recall rates were small relative to the false recognition rates obtained by Seamon et al. (1998).

In addition, investigators have explored the influence of various processing manipulations on the occurrence of false memories. Rhodes and Anastasi (2000) examined the effect of levels of processing (Craik & Lockhart, 1972) on false recall by having participants either rate concreteness or count vowels as DRM list words were presented. Deeper processing yielded better overall memory and higher false recall of critical lures, but there were still false memories following shallow processing. …

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